The Apprentice: when teamwork isn't teamwork

Last night’s episode of the BBC’s The Apprentice didn’t do any of the participants any favours – other than to make them better known to the millions of viewers. We again had a group of ruthless wannabe’s trying to prove their ability as managers,  to a millionaire property speculator turned TV host.

However it makes reasonably good TV. And it does provide some useful lessons on how not to be a manager or leader.


Take their version of the ‘teamwork’, for example.

By the way, in case you haven’t bothered to watch the show, the participants are divided onto two teams who then compete with each other to achieve a goal. But… there’s a sub-plot to this teamwork which results in even more competition within each team than between the teams.

Everyone knows that one member of the losing team will be ‘fired’ so the unspoken objective of each team member is to undermine the others to ensure their personal survival. And they do this by being shamelessly divisive, by complaining about one another,  and by trying to undermine the morale and performance of their team mates!

It’s a caricature of teamwork. But, in my experience as a consultant and trainer, it is one which accurately reflects what happens in many UK organisations.

Teamwork in some organisations

These organisations preach the value of teamwork. They talk about valuing their people. They successfully complete the paperwork to have Investors in People plaques proudly displayed in their reception areas. They set up lots of work teams and send these off on expensive team development training sessions.

But all too often they undermine all of this by encouraging competition within the team.

The person who get the kudos and the promotion is not the good listener who skilfully draws out the best from each team member and gets them pulling together – it’s the person who has the biggest ego, who uses others for their own means, and who provides something called ‘strong leadership’ which, in essence, means they boss people about and tell them what to do.

It’s talking the talk – not walking it. And it’s just the kind of leadership which does well in The Apprentice.


Links to more articles on teams and teamwork

On this blog

Strong leaders create weak followers

The Apprentice: when teamwork isn’t teamwork

And on our main website

Teams, the Spider’s Web challenge and learn-by-doing

NLP in Managing & Leading

Comfort, Stretch, Panic (1)

Challenge by Choice

Small learning teams on courses

NLP and the High Ropes

NLP and the Low Ropes

1 Comment

  1. Graham on 2nd April 2009 at 9:25 PM

    I don’t live in the UK and I’ve never seen The Apprentice but, from a few short paragraphs from Reg, I think I can say I’ve had all the T-shirts.
    From what I casually observe in the UK press, the program seems to be very popular, not for the reasons that Reg suggests (how not to do it) but because it sets aspirational role models. It isn’t only a UK phenomena; I’ve seen the same kind of thing in many other countries (Brazil, USA, Australia, South Africa).
    Anyway, the lady who does a brilliant job in keeping my place spotless for me is very grateful for all those T-shirts – she says all her neighbours think they are very cool. But now I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have burnt them.